Ecosystem health of the Great Barrier Reef: Time for effective management action based on evidence
The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is a World Heritage site off the north-eastern coast of Australia. The GBR is worth A$ 15–20 billion/year to the Australian economy and provides approximately 64,000 full time jobs. Many of the species and ecosystems of the GBR are in poor condition and continue to decline. The principal causes of the decline are catchment pollutant runoff associated with agricultural and urban land uses, climate change impacts and the effects of fishing. Many important ecosystems of the GBR region are not included inside the boundaries of the World Heritage Area. The current management regime for catchment pollutant runoff and climate change is clearly inadequate to prevent further decline. We propose a refocus of management on a “Greater GBR” (containing not only the major ecosystems and species of the GBR, but also its catchment) and on a set of management actions to halt the decline of the GBR. Proposed actions include: (1) Strengthen management in the areas of the Greater GBR where ecosystems are in good condition, with Torres Strait, northern Cape York and Hervey Bay being the systems with highest current integrity; (2) Investigate methods of cross-boundary management to achieve simultaneous cost-effective terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystem protection in the Greater GBR; (3) Develop a detailed, comprehensive, costed water quality management plan for the Greater GBR; (4) Use the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to regulate catchment activities that lead to damage to the Greater GBR, in conjunction with the relevant Queensland legislation; (5) Fund catchment and coastal management to the required level to solve pollution issues for the Greater GBR by 2025, before climate change impacts on Greater GBR ecosystems become overwhelming; (6) Continue enforcement of the zoning plan; (7) Australia to show commitment to protecting the Greater GBR through greenhouse gas emissions control, at a scale relevant to protecting the GBR, by 2025.